EADT – A new weekly column

On Tuesday in the EADT and the Ipswich Star I wrote the first of a weekly Column as Leader of Suffolk County Council, well I say weekly it will be every other week as I shall alternate with SCC’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Paul West who will write more about Ipswich issues as I concentrate on a pan-Suffolk approach.

These will be a mixture of the issues that are happening as the papers go to print and some of my thoughts about how we develop Suffolk as a place to live and work over the next 20 years.  Suffolk County Council is a large organisation delivering services to some of the most vulnerable people in our Community but it is but one players and how we work in partnership across the Public sector, with private businesses and voluntary organisations is key to how we build the place we all want to live.

“Yesterday in Lowestoft, as I witnessed the initial stages of the ground investigations that will shape the final design of the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, I saw the good of our democratic bodies working together.

The investigations, taking place on land behind the offices shared by Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, is another step in the right direction to getting the £90million project, funded by both central government and the county council, completed. The benefits will not only be reaped by those living in the town, but across the wider area too. We simply would not have funding for the project had this not been the case. The business case for this project, along with the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich, was put together by people who work very hard and want the best for our county.

This also rings true for the senior bosses and directors who work on our behalf. They all, like the democratically elected councillors, work hard to make a difference to Suffolk and those who live and work here. Pay in the public sector has always been a fiercely-debated issue, and even more so in recent times. It’s not just politicians and those working in the public sector – we’ve all seen the furore over the salaries awarded to the highest earners at the BBC, as well as the gender pay gap.

Last week we published our accounts, as we do every year and are required to do so. As has been reported, the majority of our staff received the 1% pay rise, in line with other public sector workers up and down the country. However, a select few members of staff received honorariums as they stepped up to fill roles, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Indeed, they are pay rises, but they are reasonable, considering they come with greater pressures and expectations. There is no hiding from the changes that will be coming to the United Kingdom in the next two years and these people will be there assessing and dealing with those challenges. Alongside that, as an organisation we are looking to save £56million over the next four years and, along with the cabinet, these people are key to making difficult but effective decisions.

Bringing in new people to the roles would have cost the council even more money. Not just for the roles themselves, but for the cost of advertising the position. Then there is the time element too, as staff will be taken away from working on policy and serving the community as they filter applications and sit in interviews.”

Our recently introduced priorities are based on three core principles; inclusive growth, health care and wellbeing, and efficient and effective public services. These are ambitious targets – but ones I know we can achieve during the term of the administration.

This is because of the hard work and commitment of our staff, regardless of pay grade, and our councillors – and not just those in control of the administration, as opposition provides checks and balances and the chance to challenge us on policies.

Sound financial management is needed, along with careful planning and the will to find new ways to deliver and protect our frontline services. One of these methods Suffolk is leading on nationally – inspired by the work of a Dutch community, using the Buurtzorg model of care (to deliver dedicated personal and healthcare to patients in a neighbourhood) in the west of the county with our partners in health.

The work we have been doing here is something I am proud to champion in my position of Health and Social Care Integration spokesman on the County Council Network. It is something I truly believe is a strong contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to serve the ever-changing age profile of our communities. I’m sure there will be more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead as the trial continues.

We, and our partners, work extremely hard to provide the best for our residents. Despite the challenges we will come up against, our staff continue to excel every day in a concerted effort to make savings and provide a better life for those we serve.

Things have to change

Last Monday in my role as Chairman of the Improvement and Efficiency Panel of the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA) I chaired a conference at the Cambridge Genome Campus Conference Centre, probably the most impressive venue in East Anglia.  The conference was entitled Positive Ageing and co-convened by the Eastern Academic Health Science Network (EAHSN), which is an organisation within the Health system dedicated to new learning and bringing technology to the fore in the Health world, the other co-sponsors were NHS Confederation and Public Health England.

About 200 people from across the region’s Health and Social Care system gathered to hear speakers and life experiences of older age and how we, as a system, can help shape a positive vision and reality for people as they age in our communities.  An ageing population is often talked about but just living to a ripe of age is not enough it has to be a positive experience or what the point and that is the point I made in opening the Conference.

Here is conference brochure summary of what the day entailed:

‘With a significant ageing demographic the East of England is well positioned to be at the leading edge of accelerating the testing and scale up of self-care technology and health services in a way which can help make ageing work better for everyone.

This conference, led by Eastern AHSN, the East of England LGA, Public Health England and the NHS Confederation, will bring together NHS, local government, industry and academia stakeholders and aims to strengthen emerging solutions, new ways of working and shared plans for achieving healthier and happier ageing across the region.

In particular it will look to:

  • support the STPs to meet their ambitions on this agenda
  • identify opportunities to work collaboratively to further positive ageing agenda
  • position the region at the forefront of the UKs research and innovation communities.

The conference will be structured around six themes which include:

  • Defining successful ageing – What are the real demographics of ageing?
  • Sowing health habits – What can we do to ensure our own health and increase the chance of both a long life and a healthy life?
  • Rethinking work – How can society ensure the health and economic benefits of work for more people into older life?
  • Breakthroughs in technology – How can new research and innovations radically change our concepts of what old age means?
  • Connecting with others – How can we develop caring communities and multi-generational social networks?
  • Preserving purpose – How can health and social care systems focus on maintaining quality and purpose of life above the drive for extending life?’

And here is the link to the presentations from the day and if you have a look please look out for the Buurtzorg Health Care Model as that is a programme I am championing here in Suffolk and is a part of our contribution to the national debate about how we re-shape the healthcare system to better serve the changing age profile of our communities.

http://www.eelga.gov.uk/events/east_of_england_positive_ageing/

 

 

 

Grenfell Tower

A few days ago we all witnessed on our TV screens the terrible devastation and loss of life when something goes badly wrong in our system.  Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened.  To hear the harrowing tales of those who survived and see the pictures of those who did not, your heart simply goes out to people at this time and words fail us all.  But like everyone, we want answers.

I am a builder in my blood and I was a shocked as anyone that a building could be refurbished with materials that failed so tragically in this day and age.  That should not happen.

Worse still, is that Residents have been raising concerns about other aspects of the infrastructure and fire safety of the building, and appear to have been ignored.  That should not happened.

All too often recently, we again saw our outstanding emergency services rushing into horror as people ran for their lives.  However, it appears in the aftermath, the emergency planning and response by the council was poor.  That should not have happened – one of our County Council’s guiding principles is that we are there in an emergency.

So there are lessons to be learnt and here in Suffolk we are already seeking to learn them.  The Suffolk Fire Service has been out reassuring residents giving them information about the fire safety in the few hi rise blocks we have here in Suffolk.  They, alongside District officers have been making extensive check of the fire precautions and testing of equipment has been stepped up.  There are 14 residential blocks over 8 storeys high and 13 with between over 4 & 8 storeys in Suffolk.

However, Suffolk County Council is not a housing provider and it’s a mixed picture of ownership of these buildings across Suffolk, but today I will be written to the providers of each of the blocks stressing to them, the need to make sure that they work with Residents, building control and our Fire Officers to make sure all of our residents are as safe as they can be.  Our Fire officers are not aware of any building that have the same cladding system as that of Grenfell Tower but those checks continue.

At Suffolk Public Sector Leader’s next meeting we will be reviewing our emergency plans across all of our Councils to make sure as a Suffolk family if something happens we can be sure that the system is there to help immediately to support and protect people and in the longer term should it be needed.

As the questions get answered and new advice and legislation is produced we will to make sure all advice is adhered across Suffolk make sure that residents are as safe in their homes as they can be, irrespective of living in a sheltered bungalow or a High Rise building.

Much of the work our great fire fighters do is about prevention.  So I will leave you with one simple but vitally important question.  Do you have a smoke alarm?  If you do have you checked it recently?  Test it now – just to be sure.

A Precious Thing

Yesterday morning I got up with my head full of our Suffolk County Council election campaign, I checked my emails, answered a few questions from our candidates and did a little social media, then off to the Campaign office to write letters and stuff envelopes with an old friend and my fellow Councillor on FHDC Nigel and his wife Sandra.  Day ahead to involve delivering our residents survey, some filming with the BBC on the campaign trail and then collating and entering survey results.  All safe in the knowledge that despite the occasional comment on the doorstep, we would be safe and free to do so.  All the time setting out our vision for Suffolk and why ours is better than …insert other political group.

Then came the shocking news and TV pictures in which a terrorist ploughed a car into innocent men, women and children and then, when tackled, fatally stabbed a brave unarmed policeman guarding our MPs and their staff as they debated and voted on our behalf.

It’s at these sad moments that you are reminded that life is a precious thing and so is democracy and there are those out there they do not value either.  For now we are shocked, quietly mourn and have the deepest sympathies for those who have been injured or lost loved ones.  But as we continue to go about our lives, I for one, am reminded that voting and democracy are precious things to be cherished.

SCC Conservative Manifesto 2017

SCCCG Campaign 2017 - Manifesto Front PageToday Suffolk Conservative’s launch our Manifesto for the Suffolk County Council elections on 4th May.

It’s been 12 months in the planning and every single pledge is costed and has been debates by our candidates going back across a series of meetings starting last September.

Its build on literally thousands of doorstep conversations and online surveys where people have over the past couple of years told us their priorities for Suffolk and what they want us to continue to do and build on.

  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to keep the Council tax as low as possible building on our outstanding 7 years of delivering a 0% rise in the base Council Tax.
  • Residents tell us they want us to spend more of our roads, investing to prevent pot holes from happening and where they inevitably do, be quicker about repairing them.
  • Residents tell us they want us to continue to look after the vulnerable adults and children in our communities and protect the budgets for doing so, just as we have been.
  • Residents tell us that we need to put Suffolk at the forefront of infrastructure spending and I hope last week’s announcements on the two new bridges for Suffolk show that we are.
  • Residents tell us we need to work with Business across Suffolk to provide higher paying Jobs and new homes at the same time as protecting our unique countryside that makes Suffolk such a wonderful place to live, work, raise our families and have a long and enjoyable life in.

Our Manifesto sets this vision out.

https://www.suffolkconservatives.org.uk/news/suffolk-conservatives-launch-may-2017-manifesto

Vote Conservative on May 4th.

 

In or Out

Europe in outLike many who follow politics I have watch the last few days with great interest to learn of the ‘deal’ has David Cameron returned with.  There was the first stab at it two weeks ago, which was a bit rubbish and at the end of last week we watched the late night/early morning comings and goings in Brussels, the first Saturday Cabinet meeting since the Falkland’s War and then the Prime Minister emerging from No.10 to announce the worst kept secret for ages that there will be an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU on June 23rd. Yesterday every political show and Sunday broadsheet poured over the ‘deal’ and which, mainly Conservative politicians, were going to back the ‘in’ campaign or the ‘out’ campaign.  Labour seems to have been largely ignored as the internal differences in the Conservative party seems to be of far more interest to the media than anything Corbin has to say.

So we have a few months ahead to hear the arguments and to think about what is a difficult decision to make but one we should all take very seriously, even if in life politics largely leaves you cold and you feel it has little to do with you or for you, this vote does.  The decision we collectively make on 23rd June will have a profound impact on our lives for many years to come.  Make the right one and we have a bright future ahead of us, make the wrong one and the fundamental living standards of all our families will suffer.

For me its boils down to three basic things, Security, Jobs and Economic Prosperity.  If you can work out which way I will be voting based on those three tests without reading further, then I suggest you know which way you should vote, either way you’ve made your decision and there is no need to read further, but if you do, thank you as firstly it’s good for my blog stats and I perhaps I can add a little something to your decision making processes before we all completely burn out with the debate overload that is to come.

In terms of security I have been to Brussels on a few occasions both to learn more and occasionally on my political work, if you visit the European Parliament building you will come across the references to its founding Fathers all born of the Second World War in one way or another.  One of these was Winston Churchill who believed those that trade together, do not wage war against each other and he has been proven to be right.  As the Iron Curtain fell we saw in the Balkans what can go horribly wrong on European soil.  Yet for the main part the EU expanded and those poor previously subjugated countries peacefully emerged and are catching up fast and become places for us to trade.  I do not, nor I suggest should you, underestimate how that process could have gone wrong but has not. Oh I hear you say it could not happen again, well in the hard economic times that areas of Europe have had of late the hard right and hard left are there just below the surface, make no mistake of that. For all the talk of net contributors and what we do or do not get out of it, Europe is a safer place for the EU and so are we.

Secondly where I live the economy is in part built on migrant workers, those here doing jobs we have not got the skilled people to do, are working both ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style sending money home to families and here raising their families, making a new life for themselves and paying their taxes.  The free movement of people does not mean much to us, but in Europe given the forced movement of people with millions dying in the process during and historically significantly, after the Second World War, this is a cornerstone of the union.  So David Cameron’s sensible caveat that if you claim child benefit here it is scaled to where your children reside and that if after 6 months you do not have a job then you must return to your place of origin and ask that state for support, is remarkable.  It’s also a measured set of rules that make more sense of free movement of people, one I can see slowly being adopted in other parts of the EU.  Yes, come here, work hard and enjoy all that brings and benefit our society but not scrounge off of us.

Thirdly and as one recent US President said “It’s the economy, stupid” if we leave, will GB flourish or flounder? On the one hand it’s often said that just look at countries like Norway and Switzerland and how successfully they trade with Europe, well Britain is far bigger with far more companies competing with European ones and we would be leaving. To my mind most European Leaders are wedded to the EU in a political sense which we struggle a little to understand here, their political capital, the thing that keeps them in a job and their opposition out of one, is about the success of their relationship with the EU.  So I ponder, if we exit, is it in their personal political advantage for us to flourish nor not? I think not.  Of course many countries such as Germany like free trade with us to sell their luxury goods to us, aka BMW and Mercedes but for most a successful Britain outside of the EU would be a weapon to their opposition to argue to also leave and take out the ruling politicians in the process. So I suspect if we leave trade barriers would appear and we would find trading with our key market, for that is what it is, for it will take another 40 years to try to rebuild a different trading landscape, our key market would become a more difficult place for British companies to do business. For the most part, British based businesses and companies have yet to speak and when they do I think we will understand their fears, fears we should all share.

For these reasons I shall be voting to stay in the EU.

 

Stonewall Top 100

LGB&T SCC LogoGood news came reached me last Tuesday when I was informed that at an awards ceremony in London, Stonewall announced which organisations have been included in their Workplace Equality Index for 2016 and  Suffolk County Council was confirmed as having been  successful in maintaining a place in the Top 100 at position 78.  This represents a significant rise of 20 places compared to 2015 when Stonewall introduced more challenging criteria. Also congratulations are in order to Suffolk Police at position 15.

This success demonstrates Suffolk CC is a good place to work for LGB&T staff and that SCC makes efforts to ensure that staff across the organisation understand how to support their LGB&T colleagues.  Cllr Sarah Stamp, Cabinet Member for Communities and thus lead member for equalities and inclusion said: “I am delighted that Suffolk County Council is recognised as one of the Top 100 employers in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016.  This achievement acts as a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to support LGB&T staff across the organisation”.

Matt Woor, Chair of the Suffolk County Council LGB&T Staff Network said: “I am thrilled that Suffolk County Council has improved its position within the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.  Every year the work involved in making the top 100 gets harder, so it is fantastic that we have been able to rise to this challenge once again.”

I echo both comments, for some this seems a difficult subject area, but not for me, I believe that we are here in public life to protect our values, our heritage and that a tolerant, fair society is at the heart of our great county and I will do all I can in the time, I am involved in Public Life to promote this position in any of the organisations I am involved in.  Being a Stonewall Top 100 employer clearly demonstration the importance that Suffolk County Council places upon supporting LGB&T equality, both within its workforce and also within the wider community of Suffolk.

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